By Anthony M. Graziano
Another Warren G. Harding Cabinet is in the making, but with a greater wallop. In 1920 Republican President Harding invited political cronies and rich businessmen to run the country. Harding admitted that he could not understand complicated issues and he based decisions like Cabinet choices on feelings rather than facts.
Some were good appointments but many were unqualified opportunists who created the most scandal-ridden administration in our history.
The Republicans’ mantra, “less government in business and more business in government!” defined three successive administrations (1920-1932) whose bottom-line, profit-motive, top-down economics and business values were hardly the philosophy needed for good public policy.
Harding’s secretary of the interior was an oil industry lobbyist who promptly transferred the Navy’s oil reserves to two oil companies, took $100,000 in bribes and retired to his 55-mile-long cattle ranch.
The head of the Veterans Bureau sold tons of medical and hospital supplies intended for wounded veterans, netting a fortune for himself.
A retired army colonel was Harding’s alien properties custodian. He took a $50,000 bribe to allow the illegal sale of World War I assets.
Harding’s campaign manager became attorney general and was soon turning our government into the greatest bargain basement sales outlet in history, allegedly taking some $200,000 in bribes. The scandals, too many to name here, included three or four suicides and at least one murder. Even the president’s sudden death in 1923 was suspicious.
For 12 years the foxes were in the henhouse. It was a wild ride ruled by business values, tax cuts for the wealthy and a widening income gap. The conflicts of interest, thievery and greed finally ended with the stock market crash and the Great Depression.
Our current president is a modern Harding, a man out of his depth, displaying much the same intellectual limitations and values. Donald Trump wants the very rich to run our country – see his Cabinet of billionaires and millionaires. Few have public service experience and some, like some of Harding’s appointees, are opposed to the very departments they control – Education and EPA, for example.
Like Harding, Trump has empowered personal wealth and bottom-line business values. Will the self-serving rich suddenly acquire the philosophy, knowledge and values needed for good public service? Whose interests will they serve? A case in point: Who will get the proposed billions in tax cuts? Can it be that the Trump family alone will gain tens of millions? Might this be a conflict of interest? And who will pay for their windfall?
If you think the Harding administration had conflicts of interest, a self-serving elite, outrageous raids on the public’s resources, a ballooning income gap and deep scandals, then consider this famous line: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Anthony M. Graziano, Ph.D., is professor emeritus at the University at Buffalo and author of numerous books and journal and magazine articles.